Regarded by many critics as one of the greatest films ever made, Tokyo Story is a deceptively simple tale of two ageing parents visiting their adult children in Tokyo. Travelling more than 24 hours by train, on arrival they find their children too busy to spend much time with them.
Shot in a muted black and white to reduce contrasts, it’s a universal tale elegantly told. Director Yasujiro Ozu (Late Spring, An Autumn Afternoon) was a master of filmmaking, interested in telling the story without sentimentality or emotional baggage. The camera remains static, usually at three feet from the floor – the eye level of a Japanese person seated on a tatami mat. More often than not, a room is seen first before characters arrive. The old couple (Chisyu Ryu, Chiyeko Higashiyama) accept their lot without any emotion, struggling with the oppressive city heat. Much of the film is shot indoors and the couple choose to end the city sojourn early. Taken ill on the return journey, the mother dies as they arrive home. Now the children must find the time to travel.
A timeless nuanced social commentary, Ozu’s staged, matter-of-fact telling works beautifully as the old Hirayama couple – and the old way of life – come to terms with change.